FIFA World Cup 2018: From Harry Kane to Lionel Messi, a list of top ten forwards to watch out for at showpiece event

1962 was the year of imagination. The world saw President John F. Kennedy ask the Congress for $531 million to put a man on the moon, the first edition of The Amazing Spider-Man was hitting the news stands, flavoured chips were the latest rage, and Chile was hosting the World Cup. It was a year of (mostly) optimism. Some of us are facing towards the 2018 World Cup with the same sense of optimism, and counting down the days (nine more) not because it's been a particularly a good four years in currents affairs, but because we need it.

History repeats itself. And in the macrocosm of football, the sense of deja vu is often, and in the grandest stage of all – the World Cup – it's most noticeable. With the sheer number of quality forwards representing their nations in the 2018 edition, football historians sense a possible repeat of the 1962 World Cup where there were as many as six top scorers - Florian Albert (Hungary), Garrincha (Brazil), Valentin Ivanov (Soviet Union), Drazan Jerkovic (Yugoslavia), Leonel Sanchez (Chile), Vava (Brazil) – with four goals each. It was also the first time in the tournament top-scorer also won the World Cup (Brazil).

1962 signified a change of trend, and forwards suddenly suffered from an onset of imagination, thinking of themselves as artists who are tasked to script their own story by the stroke of their limbs.

Here is our selection of the ten forwards we believe have the potential to mold 2018 World Cup in their own image, score goals, and make us optimists:

Harry Kane, 24, England

Harry Kane is what Gary Lineker would be like if he was reimagined in 2018. AFP

Harry Kane is what Gary Lineker would be like if he was reimagined in 2018. AFP

There’s something quite odd about Harry Kane. He has a face that looks like it’s hiding too much tongue. He doesn’t quite look like the modern footballer. He breaks into a saunter, mostly, only when he’s in the final third of the pitch; which is to say he’s most comfortable in the box when the ball is coming at his general direction. Once that happens, he’ll nod/poke/prod the ball home and will surprise himself for having been there. He is what Gary Lineker would be like if he was reimagined in 2018. Kane has scored 108 times for Spurs in 150 games, and 13 times for England in 24. England, with their history this competition, would need all the luck it gets.

Hirving Lozano, 22, Mexico

When Robert McKimson pitched Speedy Gonzales "The Fastest Mouse in all Mexico" to Warner Brothers most successful show, The Looney Tunes, he unconsciously portrayed the characteristic of an archetype Mexican forward. Hirving Lozano is the next generation in the long line of speedy Mexican wing-forwards. He plays with a quiet confidence of someone who wears a red kerchief around the neck to work on Mondays. The breakthrough star has fired PSV to a title in his first ever season – in total scoring 17 goals in only 29 appearances. Watch him cut in and shoot like an Arjen Robben doppelganger.

Timo Werner, 22, Germany

If you haven’t heard of him before, you’re welcome. Timo Werner’s work-rate is commonly seen in a tractor, when one compares in relative terms the kind of running number nines usually do. Liverpool see Werner as the perfect understudy to Roberto Firmino, who leads Europe as the attacker with the highest turnover of possession in the opponent half. Werner scores goals too. He’s the golden boot winner of the 2017 Confederations Cup with Germany. He has a return of 34 goals in 63 appearances for Leipzig.

Roberto Firmino, 26, Brazil

Roberto Firmino started his career as a highly-rated defensive midfielder. It’s easy to see why he plays the way he does as a striker. In a Liverpool team flanked with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, he is their best player and perhaps Brazil’s most understatedly-important attacker. His off-the-ball gameplay has the lactic acid and fibre to back-up all the vitamins and vital nutrients that Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus bring and make Brazil feel like a wholesome, a more complete meal again. This Brazilian attack could be almost good to eat.

Thomas Mueller, 28, Germany

Playing as an attacking midfielder, centre forward, second striker, and on either wing, Thomas Muller is the German national team’s answer to their neighbour’s Swiss Army Knife 121 years late. The most un-footballer-looking-footballer in the modern game, he could be easily at home wearing an apron and taking your order in a brewery with Kane. Mueller’s pedigree in the World Cup is beyond question and questions of form. He was both the Best Young Player and The Golden Boot Winner at the 2012 World Cup, and followed that up with Silver Ball in the 2014 edition. Counting him out is what most defenders do and are left to rue.

Nabil Fekir, 24, France

In all fairness, with the absolutely harem of footballing talent France have at their disposal, Nabil Fekir may not even get a chance to start. But despair not, dear reader, he will be subbed on more often than not, or so this writer hopes. And when he does, notice how he dribbles in squiggles, as if his meanderings with the ball was somewhat positively philosophical, digressing but always moving forward. With the ball at his feet, first, he waits for the tackle, then he pouts his posterior in the direction of the challenge, the defender staggers to a halt, and then he sets off in his Byzantine quest for a goal or an assist. It’s a sight that would make Ronaldinho smile to himself.

Sadio Mane, 26, Senegal

Sadio Mane is the direct descendant to style George Weah made famous. AFP

Sadio Mane is the direct descendant to style George Weah made famous. AFP

Senegal upset defending champions France and reached the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup with a much lesser team. They had El Hadji Diouf, now they have Sadio Mane. Growing up, Mane idolised George Weah. Currently the newly elected President of Liberia, Weah was formerly an AC Milan legend, “the precursor of the multi-functional strikers of today”, and consequently the first African player to win the Ballon d’Or in 1995. Mane is the direct descendant to style Weah made famous, and has shown the capacity to not only be getting on the end of through balls with his grease-lightning pace, but also the ability to fall back into the role of the creator seamlessly and make goals.

Sadio has made Coutinho’s absence made look like a minor key in the heavy-metal orchestra of Liverpool’s season. Towards the end of this season with goals vs AS Roma and Real Madrid, he finished with a strong run of form.

Sergio Aguero, 30, Argentina

That Sergio Aguero’s 360 career goals dwarfs in front of team-mate Lionel Messi’s number tells us more about Messi’s once-in-a-lifetime talent than Aguero’s. Prolific and reliable in equal measure but rarely ever gets the acclaim he deserves from writers and journalists who are busy waxing lyrical of Messi. Which is fair, but history tells us that for every Diego Maradona, tended by three defenders, there has to be a Jorge Burruchaga who is free to score the winning goal (vs Germany to win Argentina the World Cup in 1986, Maradona’s assist). His career has a story akin to a boxer, and since this could be his last chance at glory, like Rocky Balboa, he could have saved his best for the last round.

Cristiano Ronaldo, 33, Portugal

Russia 2018 is last chance saloon for Portugal’s poster boy and the one of the costliest sporting advertising billboard on the planet. Winning the last edition of the European Championships and consequently giving Portugal their first ever major trophy has gone some way into establishing his legend, surpassing the legacy of Eusebio; and has balanced out that meme-worthy bust of his at the airport in Madeira.

The show pony has aged into the maturity of a trusty steed. At Real Madrid and Portugal, he’s grown into the role of an Alpha-male leader. He’s honed himself into the master marksman, expending little but whenever necessary, all the while still having a bicycle kick and a step-over in store for his long-time admirers.

For someone who is driven to edge of self-perfection, that much ridiculed bust may however turn out to be an accurate representation of his feelings if he was not to win the ultimate prize and get one over Messi.

Lionel Messi, Argentina

Here’s another column inch dedicated to Messi’s genius, as no top ten list of attackers with be complete without him, even if it’s an alternative one. These paragraphs won’t be accusatory, challenging, dismissive but rather in sympathy of the load he’ll bear on his shoulders.

Argentina expects most, more than Brazil because they already have five World Cups in the kitty, and more than England because they have finally woken up from their delusions of grandeur and entitlement which every World Cup brought them.

If Argentina wins the World Cup, it won’t be with the beauty of Brazil or the machinations of Germany – it will have to be a smash and grab. They will have to rob win after win, it has to be grind. And Lionel Messi will have to put his shift in to add gloss yet again to a sub-bar, rag-tag bunch; who, when then play, often have the habit to look like they have each individually arrived to the match and are meeting each other for the first time.

Where once was Riquelme threading the balls through, there is now the watered-down-mate version of Lucas Biglia. Up there with being the President of the United States, being Messi is one of the most un-enviable tasks in the world. He’ll have to be an optimist.

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Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 17:59 PM

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